4

Stone Dead: The MoD and other Parties

Chapter 3 hereChapter 5 here

I

There was a knock at the door of the cottage in Durham. Amelie answered it and was both surprised and not surprised.

‘Come in. You’re certainly getting about the country, Mr. Forrester.’

Laura was coming down the stairs in her robe, shaking out her hair and smiling. ‘Miles. What brings you at 9 p.m.?’

‘We need to talk, not in generalities but to plan. I need to let you in on some things. I’ve also been with DI Collins.’

‘Intriguing.’

A late supper was hurriedly prepared, they went through to the living room and sat down. He got straight down to it. ‘Is your phone tapped, do these walls have ears? Do you have your own recording system for interesting visitors?’

‘Not sure, yes and yes. I’ll switch it off if it’s in my interests to.’

‘I think it is. Before we get down to any of it, I want to say that the murder is still important to the Inspector but he can’t get any closer. For me, it’s now less important in the scheme of things – my island is paramount now. So are you. You’re now part of my plans.’

‘Just one moment.’

‘I’ve done it,’ said Amelie. ‘I’m going upstairs.’

She did so. Laura said, ‘That does mean she won’t listen – she’s in the room on the end. We have our code. Fire away.’

‘Things are about to hit the fan and I can’t do it alone. You think you can and I hear you’re pretty good but even this one is too big. We’re not dealing just with the Man here but with serious nutters. Even your charm won’t save the situation.’

‘What are you proposing?’

‘That you and I throw in our lot together, at least on this, for now – combine, work out some strategies.’

‘Why would our interests coincide?’

‘They wouldn’t have earlier, that’s true but things have moved on swiftly. I know you have your sources. I’m using the law because they have better surveillance, a longer reach and as I’m no criminal – well at least not currently wanted as one – it makes sense.’

‘For you maybe. I have much to lose.’

‘You’re probably better at these things than me, you’re intelligent. I’ve a cavalier streak and ruthlessness you haven’t seen yet because I’ve not shown it.’

‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ she smiled. ‘Doncaster?’

‘Ah, so you see the modus operandi. That helps. I’m going to divulge a lot this evening and if you’re playing fair, we’ll survive. If you’re still playing a lone hand, then we’re gone.’

‘Convince me then.’

‘All right. This evening, about now, Frank’s being arrested.’

‘What’s he being charged with?’ she demanded.

‘First degree. He was the one looking through the little window.’

‘But that’s rubbish,’ she was annoyed. ‘You know as well as I do that he was down near the house. No one’s ever said otherwise, not Chloe, not me, not you.’

‘He’s remanded, nothing more. Laura, look at me. The third female was up that tree, right?’

She was seriously in two minds, not just about the question but about it all. She was either going to close this off now or she was about to jump into the abyss. Are you working for DI Collins? Will my answers go to him?’

‘On my word, no. Not unless you yourself release me. I have to play fair with him to a point my main loyalty is to you now, for the foreseeable too, I think you know that, you’ve gathered that already.’

‘Yes.’

‘Yes you’ve gathered that?’

‘Yes she was.’

‘And her name is Penny,’ he commented.

‘How did you … never mind. Yes.’

‘And she was wearing a grey jacket.’

‘Amazing. Yes.’

‘She’s MoD, according to my sources, yet she keeps an eye out for a man called Cornell and there’s some sort of familiarity between the two.’

‘Familiarity,’ she snorted. ‘That’s a good word for it.’

‘Frank has a connection with all this. Now, we either pool our information and are ahead of the game or we don’t and get nowhere.’

‘Meaning that’s all you have on that.’

‘On that, yes. Fair comment. On Ralph, Chloe and the gite – much more.’

She sighed. ‘OK, Miles, I buy. Penny’s out for the main chance, Dan Cornell thinks he has her under the thumb, his lackey, she squares things for him and has her antennae out, he’s in charge of the plan to buy and explore under the island. I don’t know her personally but know much about her. I find these things out. Ralph is Johanssen’s man dealing with MoD – they’re offering you on a plate. You’re to be compromised or threatened, you’ll get the owners to sell -‘

‘They really are fools, aren’t they?’ She smiled. ‘I’m using the DI at Lytton, just as he’s using me. He’ll not let me in on it if he’s planning an arrest and he knows I’ll not rat on you. I’ll certainly rat on the others. You have loyalties to Ralph – I know it’s more than business – and it’s not in your nature to help the law. I’m in two minds about the law – they can be useful. The one who killed Melissa was either you or Chloe. The DI’s been back there with a fine tooth comb -‘

‘Really?’

‘Which means you and Frank aren’t in communication or else you’re playing a clever game.’

‘No, I’m not playing. All right, Miles, my job was to throw Melissa the gun and she was going to force you to sign away the island. But as you know and I know and almost everyone knows – but no one told Melissa – that was never going to happen at gunpoint. How she fell for it, I don’t know. As I say, I was meant to but something made me pause – I was being left out of the loop too much. Frank’s shrewd in business but he’s not a great thinker generally.

It seemed to me a classic set up. I throw the gun, he’s worked on Melissa about me stealing her money or getting him to, she lives for the money – lived – and I feared she was readying to kill me. I didn’t buy the island selling in the least. The gun was in the covered area, the secret cranny, behind the stables, up that end where the window is.’

He was watching every move of the lips, every facial gesture and she was watching him watching her. Her throat was parched and she took a sip of tea.

‘The idea was for it to be split second. I had no idea Chloe was coming up to the stables. Yes, I knew she was on with Frank, had been from well before that day – he wanted the island but was a bit out of that loop and used any chance. He backgrounded her, found a person he could do business with and it went from there.’

‘You mean they were making love.’

‘I’d not have called it love, we’ve been through all that. Frank was well aware of the ownership of the island, as you’d let the information out to Chloe. I was to throw the gun, Melissa was to threaten you, Melissa shoots me – that bit’s my thinking – you’re framed.’

‘I’d have seen her do it.’

‘Miles, Miles. I keep saying, I was getting squeezed out, though they made it look as if I was right in there at important discussions, everyone yelling this and that. Let’s take this step by step. Did I go to Durham?’

‘That’s set in rock and yes it was you. But why?’

‘Frank. He wanted me out of it. So whether he changed his mind or I did is going to explain that. Call your DI. I want to know you know. Then I can continue. Please. For me?’

He took out the mobile and called. There was to-ing and fro-ing, some long pauses, then he said thanks and hung up.

‘You were called from the house at 9.35 a.m.’

‘That’s important because either Chloe or I came up that gully. If I was making an unexpected return, why would I go all the way up that gully to the stables?’

‘Frank had changed the plan. Let me see. I was already … no. I might have been there early … hmmmm. You’d got to the hotel and met Chloe -‘

‘Who said that?’

He nodded. ‘Chloe. But you went along with that to me.’

‘Yes because I was fencing at that point. I knew that if the taxi did well, I’d be at the house well before you arrived. It’s all very simple. Where did the cabby drop me? The house of course. This has been entirely missed. I never met Chloe at the hotel earlier. There can only be one person walking up that gravel path in the open and another who came up the gully, yes?’

‘Did you know Chloe was arriving, staying at the hotel?’

‘I thought through all the possibilities on the taxi trip back. At this stage, all I knew was that she was going to be there in some form, some way, but what was worrying me was that, having been out of the loop, suddenly I’m back in it and it’s all so rushed. Get to the property and race up there into place. That smelt.’

‘The DI and I are both sure Chloe used the gully – shoe size – and whoever used the gully was also the one inside the stable at least for the second shot. It doesn’t let you off with the first shot but if you’d done the first, then how did Chloe get your gun for the second?’

‘Miles, think. There were three guns. There was mine I’m not admitting I was carrying, there was the gun in the hiding place – that’s the one that did the shooting – and then there was Melissa’s, the one that fired no bullets – how did she get that gun into her hands?’

‘Ah.’

‘Yes, ah. Whoever was at that window had to have thrown her the gun and allowed her enough time to train it on the stable door. Now let’s get back to Penny. Why was she up that tree? What exactly was she ensuring? Let me ask you a different one – why that tree? What advantage did that give her?’

‘From there she could cover the little window and nod to Frank at his living room window, she had the runner up the gully covered, she had you covered and me on the way down and you still haven’t told me how you got away.’

‘I broke away from Chloe, jumped on the roof and over to the far corner where I could drop down to the concrete path, which leads down to the fence. And as there was the rooftop ridge between Penny and myself, they hadn’t sorted that one out.

I’m not ready to tell you about that yet. I took the weapon intended for me to take, the one in the cranny, I went to the window and waited. If the second gun had been in there, I’d have taken it, yes? But Miles, there was no second gun in that cranny. I also felt no urgency about being unprotected because … well …’

‘Yes.’

‘Either way, that’s when I see Penny – remember I don’t actually know her personally but know it is her – crossing the gravel drive to that earthen bridge you mention – she does not look my way, she is hellbent on getting into that tree. In that grey jacket. The second thing I see is Chloe coming up the hill through the gully at a rate of knots. That’s when it all becomes clear to me.’

There was a pause. ‘Why was the second shot necessary? Melissa seemed dead already.’

‘Vindictiveness? I just don’t know. Whoever fired that second shot had Chloe sized feet in galoshes and climbed through that window.’

II

It was late afternoon in Lytton, another drizzler, with sunny patches and then down it would drizzle again – a ‘don’t get your hopes up’ day.

‘Well, isn’t this nice … Mrs Forrester is it now?’ The DI smiled that smile Miles wished he wouldn’t.

‘Not yet,’ answered Laura. ‘If it ever happens, we’d like you at our wedding.’

‘Need you as my best man,’ added Miles.

‘My goodness,’ beamed DI Collins. ‘I’m up for it. Church is it?’

‘It would be Church,’ said Laura.

‘I think there’s something you’re not telling me.’

‘Yes,’ answered Miles. ‘We need to sort out the island, Johanssen, the MoD, Frank and Chloe. We have a plan which we think will work.’

‘He can be arrested tomorrow. There’s more than enough on the carrying of unregistered firearms.’

‘With the greatest respect, we’re not entrusting our safety to that. Once he sees the little spectacle we have organized for later today, he’s going to be bent on vengeance. The others will take the offers. He won’t and in jail, he’s far more powerful – he has no known natural predators inside but outside – he has you. Better he stays out for now.’

‘And you’d like protection?’

‘Not that you can provide. He’s got people on the force, everywhere. No, he needs to be held over a barrel and we’re going to do that, make him an offer he can’t refuse.’

‘You could just murder him,’ observed DI Collins, wrily.

‘No, he has to be alive and no longer a threat. That’s all.’

‘Why are you opening up to me, an officer of the law?’

‘I’ve committed no crime, neither here nor in mainland Europe and I plan to keep it that way. I might soon be throwing myself on the mercy of the law.’

‘Why?’

‘Because it’s the last resort. You have ways of protecting people when you really want to.’

‘You’re forgetting one matter.’

‘No we’re not.’ He supplied many of the details but the part incriminating Laura he let her say herself.

‘There are still a couple of years inside for Ms Forrester.’

‘She’d be killed inside – you know that. If there were a plea bargain, if we could help you with your enquiries and shop some erstwhile partners in crime -‘

‘All right, we’ll speak on that at a later time. It would help your case if your good lady doesn’t scarper.’

‘Understood.’

‘Why don’t I just arrest the lot of them now – that way, there’ll be no unpleasantness at the island, nothing for me to have to pursue. Johanssen and cronies – long stretch for multiple crimes. Ms Forrester’s Ralph – for murder, the Edinburgh case. Your Chloe – conspiracy to pervert the course, conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to murder, which also ties in Johanssen and Co.’

‘All you’ll do is postpone the denouement. Better to let us do this, there’s no law broken. Then we can get down to the issue of Laura. And you’ll have all of them where they can’t wriggle out.’

‘Good luck, I suppose.’

III

The day was magnificent, the wind passable, the island a picture as twelve helicopters simply landed in the upper half of the island, the passengers but not the pilots, got out, bent down and made for the house.

Miles tried the door – locked of course, tried his key – changed of course. One of the passengers came forward with the skeleton and the door was opened. A man sprang out from the bedroom, face creased with anger, saw the company, saw himself vastly outnumbered, three of the younger passengers simply took him by the legs and dragged him bodily out of the house, over to the first helicopter and handcuffed a wrist and a leg to the railing.

‘You’re in the wrong house, my friend. That’s Mr. Forrester’s house, I believe.’ Ralph Stammers was still swearing like a trooper as they returned to the house.

Miles had already stormed into the bedroom, taken her by the arm and dragged her into the living room, flinging her into an armchair. ‘Sit down, gentlemen. I’ll bring chairs.’

A few of the men helped, they brought the chairs in, Miles and Laura went to the kitchen and were disgusted at the state of the dishes. They found various clean glasses, a couple of cups, saw the state of the fridge, came in and said, ‘We need to use our own supplies I’m afraid.’

Three of the men went out to get the makings, Ralph lashed out at one as he went by, he went over in turn and stomped on Ralph’s face, just the once. Ralph had never ever had anyone do such a thing before. It actually shut him up. It dawned he was up against something hard now and this was reinforced moments later when who should be striding grimly up the hill but Johanssen, shotgun in hand, with three others behind him similarly armed.

Johanssen saw Ralph, it seemed to drive him crazy, he closed the weapon, aimed at the men, a blast from the doorway of the house saw him almost comically upended but it was no joking matter. He was injured and the blood poured onto the grass. The other three had more sense and laid down their weapons, stepping back.

Four more came out of the house, went down and took the weapons. The three who’d been collecting the makings now went down and dragged the bloodied Johanssen unceremoniously up the gravel path by his feet and flung him through the door. Chloe was goggle-eyed and very frightened, Ralph outside was just goggle-eyed.

Johanssen treated like this. Something registered in Ralph’s brain that they were now messing with the Man. There was a way to act under these circumstances and he acted that way now.

Back inside, refreshments were poured and sandwiches distributed, two of the men sat on Johanssen who’d now woken up that he was in deep do-dos and knew to follow the code for the moment. He shut up and just lay there, trying to breath.

‘Right,’ said Miles. ‘I’ve asked you here today because this is your island,’ he nodded to each principle in turn, although not all of you know everyone else. It’s not necessary. Everything on this island and under it is yours. Any wealth is yours.

You will have to return the equipment to the owners, one who is lying under two of your men just now – the equipment and the arms do belong to him. If he’s willing to let it go, leave the island, if you buy his equipment, then I’d say that’s a good day’s dealing.

If not, then that’s another matter.’

Two of the principals nodded to their men, who grabbed Johanssen and dropped his trousers, bent him over a couch put a knife to his goolies. The third came over to Johanssen, lowered his face and eyeballed him.

‘Do we make ourselves clear?’

Johanssen nodded weakly, he’d lost a fair bit of blood now and would need medical attention.

‘If anything whatever happens, you’ll have us to deal with. Is that clear?’

Johanssen nodded again but now he was in a state. One of the principals sitting by the sideboard nodded and two of his men dragged Johansson by his feet, through the door, down to the third helicopter.

‘What are they going to do?’ whispered Chloe.

‘He’ll go to a hospital. His gun misfired, didn’t it.’

Miles took over. ‘The other three are still sitting on the grass out there. I thought they might have gone for the gite. There may be booby traps. I’d suggest we take my ex-woman with us – she’ll walk ahead of us once we’re down there.’

There was a general exodus, two men took Chloe’s hands and pulled them behind her, binding her wrists with string, she was ashen. One pushed her in the back and she too went outside.

Ralph saw the procession to the gite and kept his head down.

Eventually they all emerged from the gite, one of the principals now turned and wondered, ‘Why, Miles?’

‘I have my own revenue sources which are better for my health, I’d never know what to do with that sort of money and I want Johanssen out of my hair. You’ve done the latter -‘

‘For some time, my friend, only for some time. He’ll come after you, we should have ended it.’

‘I have a part two for Johanssen, if necessary. I think it will be. I want you to take your island – you have the muscle to handle the Man himself. MoD wants this island. There’s a man named Cornell doing the spadework, there was a woman called Dalshiel doing his bidding.

You need, gentlemen, to have a good, legal reason why they shouldn’t take your island from you. You’re the legal owners, if you can sort that out, you’re rich men. If you can’t, then take what you can nowy before they send in the troops.

My lady and I have one request each. Don’t hurt the idiot currently shackled to the helicopter – that’s a last request from my lady. Give him a little advice before you go but I promised Laura he wouldn’t actually be hurt.’

‘You’re making a mistake.’

‘I know it, you know it. He’ll come after us, after me. There’s nothing I can do – the lady has spoken. Any of you got wives?’

There were grunts and groans. Miles finished up, ‘Let’s say these idiots come after us, could you see your way clear to making available one of your redoubts for a short time?’

There were nods.

Formalities over, they all went to the helicopters, Ralph was shown the alternative – to take off with them all now, still shackled below or to travel inside if he promised never to come after the happy couple, nor do anything to hurt anyone. He nodded.

Everything now done, Ralph released, all on board, the helicopters took off and headed for land, dropping the passengers into the arms of the law, via cable, then one helicopter swung out over the Irish Sea.

IV

‘What’s this?’ asked Penny Dalshiel.

‘We can’t hold you any longer, Penny. You know your position depended on you remaining incognito.’

‘That’s unfair dismissal.’

‘Won’t wash. You’re welcome to try but official secrets comes into play. Speaking of playing, you were playing away.’

They laid down document after document in front of her – just the summaries. She looked away.

‘Sorry Penny, you’ve done good work. The usual severance packet will be forthcoming.’

All the way down those stairs, murder was in her heart. Cornell plus O’Brien would go down for this. Favours were about to be called in.

She paused by one of those pillars between shops with a full length mirror attached. She looked terrible and had to regroup – she had no bargaining chips any longer.

V

The beat of the helicopter blades overhead changed its note as the craft dipped and started its downwards descent.

Laura didn’t know what was going on – she leaned her head against the glass and saw a boat below, it was obvious they were going to land on it but it was surely too small. Then the penny dropped, Miles grinned.

The braces were donned, the line attached, they said goodbye and stepped gingerly over the edge, the whir began and down they went, clutching each other.

They weren’t swinging about wildly but the landing was a bit unceremonious on the wet deck, the braces were released, the line retracted and the copter swung away in the direction of who knew where.

‘Well?’ she asked.

‘This way,’ and he led, down the ladder, along the walkway and into the wheelhouse.

The boatman nodded, said a few things to Miles and handed over the wheel – Laura was incredulous. ‘What the …?’

‘Well, are you going to explain?’

He pointed to the door leading downstairs and said, ‘I’ll join you later.’

She looked at him, turned and went downstairs. It became patently obvious which room was theirs – all her things were in there. Only Amelie could have packed them. There was a conspiracy here and she didn’t mind one bit.

She checked the bathroom and it was quite large really. Not only that but her toilet bag was there, the one she took away with her.

She looked in the wardrobe – his things were up one end, hers down the other. It was surreal, unreal. She went back to the bathroom and spent fifteen minutes freshening up, changing into a dress for the evening, for goodness sake.

Someone went past the door, she heard him talking to Miles. Miles came downstairs, saw her in the dress, hair immaculate, said all the right things, then stepped up and kissed her cheek. They walked down the passageway to another largish room with a table in the middle.

That table had been set for two, the wine had been poured, the buffet tea was ready, cold cuts on the sideboard.

‘We weren’t sure what time we’d get here. Breakfast will be cooked.’

‘I’m going to tell you a secret after we’ve eaten, Miles. You’ve taken me on trust but I need to level with you, it’s a major factor in why I’m with you.’

‘Intriguing. Let’s eat.’

They ate in silence, hungrily as a matter of fact but eventually she asked, ‘Why did that man give you the steering wheel?’

‘The ship’s wheel? Because he had to put out the supper.’

‘You know that’s not what I meant. Why to you, Miles?’

‘It’s my boat.’

‘Your boat!’

‘Well, not exactly -‘

She groaned. ‘Don’t tell me – you sold it to him for a penny and can buy it back one day.’

‘No, these ones I own. I have a fleet. They fish. I skim off 5% – just a small revenue stream over 14 boats – it adds up. There are other revenue streams, mild, modest, constant. People always need fish. My business is always low key, which is why I ran from the island, once it became a football. I don’t want it. I stress out easily. I need to know you can take a diverse life, doing different things. The fishing is only one part.’

‘I’m adaptable. I quite like this boat,’ she laughed.

‘We could live here, we could have a bigger boat, we could forget it. I like it on boats but that’s just me.’

‘I do too, always have. Perhaps a little bigger than this, not by a lot though. Anyway, we have bigger questions first.’

‘Yes. Your secret.’

‘That’s for bed. How sure are you we won’t be overheard?’

‘If our heads are on the pillow and we lie the other way, not with heads near the outer wall, and we keep the voices down, it should be OK.

They took care of business, the man came through and took the dishes but threw Miles a cloth and he cleaned the table.

‘So, here we are, Ms Laura.’

‘I’m not Laura.’ She looked searchingly at him, at the lack of reaction.

‘I thought there was something,’ he eventually said. ‘I wasn’t sure what.’

‘At least Laura is one of my names, my second name. My first name is … Jacqueline, Jacqui if you want. There are reasons.’

‘And your sister?’

‘She’s not my sister-sister, so to speak but a cousin, a close cousin. Her name’s sometimes Janine. There’s another cousin, called Emma but she doesn’t come into the tale. She’s married and lives in Salzburg. My mother died in childbirth, my father passed away of lung cancer four years ago. I was brought up by my aunt.’

‘That’s the big secret?’

‘No. I don’t wish to burst the bubble, Miles, but I’m actually very much employed, or at least have been until now. I’m in a quandary. Best I just tell you. You may have heard of certain things happening in the world, perhaps you haven’t. The Mayor of Neuillie was odds-on to be elected and then suddenly withdrew. I withdrew him.’

‘You.’

‘Yes, I suggested it was best for all concerned. To be more precise, a certain gentleman knew of something he’d done which made him unfit for office but couldn’t get it to stick. I took the commission, worked my way into the mayor’s household as hired help, he became dependent, I then presented him with his choices, before disappearing – I’m good at disappearing.’

‘What if he’d not been guilty? What if this had just been a vendetta by a rich man?’

‘Oh but he was. He couldn’t be touched. I was called in, I have a certain reputation for discretion. Over my time with him, I made sure he was guilty. If I couldn’t have done that, I’d have resigned the commission and taken the loss.’

‘Only mayors and men in high places?’

‘No, anyone but it’s not Robin Hood work – I have a fee and not a small one. I have to be reasonably sure of his or her guilt to start with and then find the rest out on the job. Amelie tells me that a section in London, under the Home Office, is desperate to make my acquaintance. They’re not averse to what I do, as my targets are often theirs and I have a better track record but a couple of times I’ve boobed, I’ve got it wrong and ruined one of their long investigations.

I had to go to ground for that. It takes a long time on a job – months to work my way in, a month to do it, then a month gone to ground. I just go back to being Laura again. They have nothing to go on.’

‘How do you cross borders?’

‘My employers are often good with documentation or lorries.’

‘I’d imagine this Scarlett Pimpernel type work gets you in, you get a taste for it.’

‘If you mean I couldn’t settle with you, yes I could. The work is exciting, as I’m playing a part and then disappearing. It’s exciting but empty too – no one like you to come back to.’

‘Were Frank and you an item or was he a job?’

‘You know his character. He was a job. Through his car business, he stumbled on a discovery and my employer wanted to know what it was. He touted it about, trying to find a buyer and that’s where Penny became interested. Her strength is her networking, she knows everyone, she heard about this man, knew it was metals or design, wasn’t sure which. But the one who employed me has tabs on Penny. Once the island connection with you became apparent, then it seemed time to move in on Frank.’

‘So, from the beginning, you’ve had tabs on the island and me.’

‘Yes, and on Chloe, hence I befriended her, where once she was a fellow escort. I haven’t got to the main point yet.’

‘Yes?’

‘This is where my months, even a year of sizing you up has come to a decision time. It’s also going to tell you something about me. In plain speak, I’m making my move on you.’ She took a sip from the glass on the bedside table, then turned back. ‘You see, part of my job was to spy and I did it well.’

‘Don’t I know it.’

‘Along the way, I found this slip of paper.’ She reached into her knickers, the last remaining item of clothing on her and gave it to him. He peered at it closely in the half light:

“The cloak is made of a block of polydimethylsiloxane, a polymer used for contact lenses and shampoos, with added nanoparticles of titanium dioxide to help it scatter light more effectively. Inside the block is a hollow metal cylinder coated with reflective acrylic paint.”

That in itself didn’t tell me much but this did:

“This prototype of an advanced cloaking mechanism was one of the last major technological breakthroughs to come out of Crielere Labs.”

They’re two separate reports, not the same material. And this:

“At the time, a group at BASF led by Carl Bosch bought most of the world’s supply of osmium to use as a catalyst. Shortly thereafter, in 1908, cheaper catalysts based on iron and iron oxides were introduced by the same group for the first pilot plants, removing the need for the expensive and rare osmium.”

‘Ah. Hence the MoD.’

‘Hence the MoD. But that’s only part of it. Amelie works within her department and they have access to the same archives as a geological offshoot group, too complicated to detail now and the reason they shelved any attempt to mine under your island was that they did find your vein -’

‘Osmium.’

‘Yes but it was low grade, adulterated.’

‘That’s bullshit.’

‘Yes but as those archives were not accessible, except to bureaucrats who didn’t dare show any unhealthy interest over the decades, that’s how it stayed. You, however, know differently as you’ve had samples analysed.’

‘Yes.’

‘And you know what type of rock it can be found in.’

‘Igneous.’

‘And you knew where there was substantial igneous rock which may have been in the form you were starting to think of.’

He smiled. ‘I was looking around the Isle of Skye.’

‘Perhaps but let’s not deflect from this. Will you get up now and check for any ears onboard.’

‘Ah, right.’

He returned and climbed back in. She’d lost her knickers but not her voice. ‘I’ve had a long time exploring all this and I have a hunch you did not just discover deposits of osmium. There was another material as well.’

He looked at her, deciding. ‘Yes, torbernite.’

‘And what you and I know but those five under the island did not, is that those tunnels all ended without going further because the osmium does not actually underlie the whole island but is in outcrops. However, the torbernite does and though it is of low priced use in the world, it is deadly.’

He did not reply and she went on.

‘So in fact, by knowing that and happily not involving yourself in the mining, also happily getting off the island the moment there was trouble, you knew you were avoiding two things – one was military interest in large quantities of the crystal and the fallout once it was known the osmium was only in minor outcrops. So, it’s not about millions of pounds, the value of that island is in its destructive potential. ‘

‘I’d always wondered why it did not stay owned for long, why people did not mine it, why there was lukewarm reaction to that windswept rock over the centuries, certainly over the last hundred years. Yes, I wondered that and there was the folklore of the boatmen as well. Just how toxic it really was.’

‘Is there any stibnite, orpiment or any of those?’

‘Trace,  a few of them. Probably not orpiment, not just there. Now my turn – if you knew these things, why the charade with Frank?’

‘I was being paid. It’s as simple as that – it was a job.’

‘For which you’d have sex.’

‘I was waiting for that. You know the whole story, I consider I stayed largely above it and told you so but you’ll have to make your own call on that. I’ve done what I’ve done.’

‘Where am I sleeping right now?’

‘Thank you.’

‘Therefore you knew if you went with me, even before this fishing fleet became apparent, that I was never going to be rich.’ She dropped her head. ‘Yes, you’ve made your major play, Laura … or is it Jacqui?’

‘Whichever but it might be more convenient to stick with Laura now everyone’s used to it.’

‘Why did they want you in so badly?’

‘Because someone knew I knew – not about the vast wealth under there but the lack of it and its solely military potential. And that person I do not know.’

Seems obvious to me but that probably means it’s not. Who’s the one connection?’

‘No, I still can’t buy it’s her. Although she always was one for the main chance, it just never came along.’

‘Who would she ally herself with?’

‘Anyone, Miles, anyone. This Haas, Glendinning -’

‘These are?’

‘Departmental people, section people. One called Joseph, Penny -’

‘What does Amelie thinking about what’s under there? In other words, who actually knows what you and I know?’

‘I’m sure this Cornell in the MoD knows, Penny I’d say not. Amelie thinks it’s vast money. Yet she might be playing a double game. She was living in the same house as me and many times said she wasn’t listening. Maybe she wasn’t.’

‘Tell me if you agree with this. There are three types of people who want us dead – the Osmiumites, those who see vast riches, and the Torbernites, who are the MoD or rather Cornell. There is also Johansson and Frank and anyone else who will eventually find out they’re diddled.’

‘And the trick is to keep the last from knowing, while playing up the battle between the first two.’

‘You have no knickers on.’

‘I was wondering if you’d ever notice.’

 

Chapter 3 hereChapter 5 here

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